In response to our recent appeal for stories to help us celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the National Health Service, Lesley Joyce, a Warehouse Supervisor at Teva, recalls how NHS staff treated her mum with care, dignity and kindness.
"My mum Connie Joyce passed away quietly in hospital in December 2015. She was 82. Her wish had been to die at home not in hospital. Her biggest fear was that she would be left abandoned in a dark corner in impersonal surroundings.
Yet, it didn’t end up being like that at all. Far from it. The support and kindness NHS staff showed her was wonderful. The health service comes in for an awful lot of criticism and we know it’s not perfect. But for us, we couldn’t fault the way staff treated my mum and looked after her. I am so grateful for that.
Mum was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in her 50s. It’s a disease that affects the lungs and can cause serious breathing problems.
She used to work in a cosmetics factory making powders. There was no dust extraction system then and my mum was also a heavy smoker. So, all this caused problems with her lungs, though we managed to keep it under fairly good control until the last five years of her life. Things really started to deteriorate then and she became prone to chest infections.
My mum began to suffer serious breathing difficulties, and it started affecting her lifestyle. She couldn’t walk very far without getting very out of breath. She was less able to do what had previously been everyday tasks for her like looking after my dog or taking it out for a walk.
Gradually, her illness eroded her independence. In her last year, when receiving palliative care she was confined to just one room downstairs because she could no longer manage the stairs. The house had to be totally re-organised with a hospital bed put in and oxygen set up. If we went out and about she would be in a wheelchair.
In the last years, visits to the doctor became more frequent and so too did hospital stays. She would be admitted to Eastbourne District General Hospital for periods of between 10 to 14 days and be administered medication and oxygen, or other treatments.
We would fear the worst every time she went into hospital. But Mum was a real fighter and somehow she would bounce back, although each time a little less strong.
Such frequent bouts in hospital meant we had a lot of interaction with healthcare staff. All along we found them to be incredibly helpful, reassuring and kind. They made her stays so much better than they could have been.
Mum’s consultant, who we saw every six months to review her breathing, would take the time to explain things in a clear way and also deal with my queries or questions too, to help reassure me.
I also remember one nurse in particular who really came to my aid. I had been trying to persuade mum to be a bit more careful with certain tasks. For example, I wanted her to make sure she always used the handrail when climbing the stairs or that she only climbed one step a time.
Of course, to my mum all this came across as me telling her off or bossing her about to stop doing this, or that. She jokingly used to tell me to stop nagging. My mum was fiercely independent and understandably found it hard to accept that she couldn’t do certain things anymore or had to adjust her lifestyle.
It was very difficult for her. Also, the reversal in roles with me caring for her rather than her being the parent looking after me was hard for her to deal with.
But one particular nurse could see I was struggling and worrying and took the time to talk to my mum about her being more careful and how important it was.
This nurse didn’t need to do this, she went above and beyond. But she managed to get the message across and my mum took her advice. I think sometimes hearing something from someone you are not close to is helpful.
However, it wasn’t just the hospital staff who we found to be amazing. Our GP went out of her way to look after mum, even doing home visits at the drop of a hat.
It was our GP that helped arrange a two-week spell in a local hospice, St Wilfrid’s, where Mum was able to enjoy a bit of pampering such as having a massage. She enjoyed it immensely. Even basics such as being able to have a shower made a difference. It was something she couldn’t manage to do at home where she had to make do with washing at the sink.
I also have to mention the ambulance crews. Unfortunately, we had to call them out quite a few times. They were exceptional at their jobs, of course, and very caring but actually, what stood out was that we could have a few laughs with them. My mum was a character, people took to her easily and she was jokey and cheeky. The ambulance staff loved that and helped to lighten the mood at a time when everyone was feeling anxious and worried.
Soon after Mum came out of the hospice, she fell unwell again and was admitted to hospital. The doctors discovered she had pneumonia. My mum was really struggling and admitted to me for the first time that she was finding it hard to carry on.
Doctors explained that there was little more treatment they could give other than making her comfortable as possible. My mum didn’t come out of hospital again. But what I am really grateful for is that the staff were there for her even during her passing. It wasn’t at all the death she feared, staff were attentive and kind, checking on her and chatting to her so she didn’t feel alone at all. I was there too, of course.
There are always negatives about everything but there is a lot of good in the NHS, I just can’t fault it. My mum was wonderful - and the NHS treated her as such."